The Philippines: From Commonwealth to the Present

THE PHILIPPINES: from Commonwealth
to the Present
By Apolinario Villalobos

From the Philippine Commonwealth that evolved into Republican form, despite the many years that transpired, the promises of presidential candidates did not change their course which is supposedly towards the uplift of Filipinos and the advancement of the country. The graft and corruption in the government just got worse, much more with poverty which is very evident despite the “encouraging” statistics. Prices of commodities are sky-high and jobs are on contract. Today, only Chinese businesses are flourishing in the country.

The Commonwealth government under Quezon was cut short by the WWII. But during his time, the Americans already observed the culture-based administration of the government which was hinged on “gratitude”, “brotherhood”, and “kinship”. The Post-war era of independence saw the granting of independence to the country, transforming the Commonwealth to Republican under Osmeῆa. As the country was still reeling from the effects of the WWII, it was in total disarray. This situation bred profiteering on the part of the businessmen and graft on the part of the government officials, resulting to the much dissatisfaction and dismay of the masses.

The dissatisfaction of the Filipinos was perceived as an opportunity of enterprising and ambitious politicians for grabbing the power from Osmeῆa. As a last effort, Osmeῆa reorganized the government by signing an Executive Order in March 7, 1945, restoring the Executive departments. Unfortunately, Osmeῆa was perceived as lame by the then, Governor-General, MacArthur, who coerced him to convene Congress. Many were against the convening of Congress, then, as it might fall into the hands of the “collaborators” of the WWII, one of whom was Manuel Roxas who fortunately, despite his being a former “collaborator”, was favored by the support of MacArthur.

Among those that the newly-convened Congress approved was a three-year back pay to its members, which was equivalent to the three-year Japanese occupation of the country. It was a telling premonition of more self-serving Congressional actions to happen. The employees followed suit with their own demand for similar back pay covering the same period but was not granted due to unavailability of fund. The cunning Roxas perceived the dissatisfaction of the employees as an opportunity to back up his bid for presidency. He authored the Back Pay Law which was eventually passed in 1948. It gave three years back pay to all pre-war government employees in 1958, after a ten-year period during which the government would have already saved enough funds.

The country did not gain much from Roxas when he held the reins of the government. Graft and corruption still proliferated. But his prominence became more pronounced when the provision on Parity Rights of the Americans was inserted in the Philippine Constitution. Hours before he died, he again committed the loyalty of the Filipinos to the Americans. His true color as “collaborator”, first with the Japanese during WWII, and later, with the Americans, surfaced till the time he drew his last breath.

Quirino took over the presidency when Roxas died. He promised “government reorganization to achieve efficiency at all levels of the bureaucracy, immediate increased production to give employment to thousands of idle laborers, vigorous and honest enforcement of tax laws, the preservation of the national integrity, and continued friendly relations with the countries of the world”. The Hukbalahap movement just became active because of unresolved agrarian issues during Quirino’s administration, and due to the worsening corruption. He wisely gave an all-out support to his Secretary of National Defense, Ramon Magsaysay who was perceived as honest and with unquestionable ability to lead, who somehow mellowed the administration’s strong image of ineptness . The charisma of Magsaysay brought him nearer to the masses.

When Magsaysay became president with the help of the CIA, he unfortunately, went beyond the tolerable treatment of the masses. His pampering of the masses, made them over-dependent to the government, resulting to their idleness. He went to the extent of opening the gates of Malacaῆan to them, practically resulting to the presidential official residence’s transformation into a “park”. During his term, he promised, the improvement of the land tenure system with land resettlements, easy-term credit for the peasants, intense community development founded on self-help. To support those promises, the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) in Palawan was established in 1955, as well as, the Farmers’ Cooperative and Marketing Association (FACOMA). It was also during this time that Visayans and those from the north, rushed to Mindanao to clear cogon-covered fields. To date, among the results of the resettlement effort were General Santos and Koronadal cities. General Santos City was formerly, “Dadiangas”, while Koronadal City was formerly, “Marbel”.
Magsaysay realizing his mistakes for pampering the common “tao”, was reported to have lost his temper several times, one of which was when he “exploded”, saying: “the people want me to do everything for them!”. His ten-point program was never realized when he met an accident while on board the presidential airplane in March 17, 1957 on the way back to Manila from a speaking engagement in Cebu. The ill-fated airplane was later found on Mt. Manunggal in Cebu. Vice-President Carlos P. Garcia took over the presidency with the demise of Magsaysay. It was alleged that Magsaysay did a corrupt act by posting newspapermen in important government offices, as well as, extended to them favors that not even government officials were lucky to have a share.

The presidential election in 1957 confirmed the presidency of Garcia, although, the said process was said to be the noisiest and most expensive in the country’s history until the time. It was during this time that the Catholic Church was dragged into the chaos, which however, proved that the votes of the Catholics were not reliably solid. Diosdado Macapagal who belonged to the opposition won as Vice-President.

During his term, Garcia promised: “to complete the Philippine economic independence through the adoption of the Filipino First Policy….; to establish Filipino dignity as a free people by dealing with foreign powers on terms of sovereign equality; to achieve a balanced economy by providing equal impetus to agriculture and industry; to promote social justice and the general welfare of the masses, and; to minimize and, if possible, to eradicate graft and corruption”. Just like his predecessors however, Garcia also failed, as the poor not only multiplied but continued to suffer from poverty, while the economy was at its worse.

The people’s disillusionment of how Garcia administered the government, steered Diosdado Macapagal towards victory when he made a bid for presidency. Graft and corruption were the focus of all issues against Garcia which Macapagal used to his advantage. When he won, Macapagal promised: “the immediate restoration of economic stability, alleviate the common man’s plight, and establish a dynamic basis for future growth.” He added to strengthen the deteriorating moral fiber of the people. Unfortunately, a few months after he was sworn in, his province mates indulged in extravagant celebrations, with him and his family at the center. Such flagrant show of opulence went on which slighted the Filipinos much. Macapagal will however, be remembered with his nationalistic decision to move the Philippine Independence Day from July 4 to June 12, and the Land Reform Code which unfortunately was not implemented effectively.

The nepotism, graft and corruption issues were used by Ferdinand Marcos against Macapagal when the former ran for president. The Filipinos, for having no choice and who had been clamoring for change, voted for him.

Among the presidents, it was Marcos who openly admitted that the country was in a dire crisis situation, and to arrest the further deterioration of the country, he promised: “self-sufficiency in the production of rice and the diversification of crops, implementation of the land reform program, and intensification of the community development program. During his time, the country experienced a phenomenal infra-structure boom, to support the drummed up tourism and industrialization efforts of the government. Not satisfied with the Constitution-mandated tenure, he declared Martial Law, to supposedly prevent the Communist take-over of the country. The drastic move was accepted for several years by the Filipinos, until the issue on the murder of Benigno Aquino erupted.

The People Power Revolution in 1987 toppled the dictatorship of Marcos and installed Cory Aquino as President. Issues that her administration faced were recovery of the people’s money, replenishment of the dried up budget, and corruption that was not totally swept out of the system. Her tenure did not accomplish much for the recovery of the country until she was taken over by Fidel Ramos during whose administration there was a spree of privatization and selling of government properties. As the Filipinos got tired of the same economic and political mishaps of presidents, they gave a chance to Joseph Estrada from the movie world, and who promised “heaven”, and something “new”…indeed, corruption with a “new” face, that just got worse. The recurring despair of the people brought Gloria Arroyo to power. Despair again made the Filipinos look for another leader, and this time they bit the bait dangled by the old-time crooks who used the “martyrdom” of Ninoy Aquino to push the presidency of Pnoy Aquino…. TODAY, RODRIGO DUTERTE IS AT THE HELM OF THE COUNTRY.

The rest is history, literally, because as stated in the pages of the Philippine history, the same problems are the issues today– graft, corruption, nepotism, poverty. But many Filipinos are keeping their fingers crossed that President Duterte who was catapulted to power due to the aggravating drug problem in the country, would make true his promise of eliminating even the graft and corruption in the government.